Should Disadvantaged Students Receive More Funding?

Today’s post comes from the heart of one of my current students, who is finishing up her online graduate degree in education. Although I have lots of good stories generated by these hardworking professionals who work during the day and study online at night, this one was very compelling. The line that made me so sad was, “Last year I had a student so distraught that we were going on vacation (because he knew that he wouldn’t eat) that I took him grocery shopping to ensure that his last few days before vacation were more successful. (see below for the full story)”

The other reason for the timeliness of this story is that I am down at the national conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Washington, DC. As the theme for the 100th meeting of this group suggests, “Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies,” our group of researchers both in the university and in public education institutions like schools and foundations and think tanks, are celebrating our concerns in promoting education for all students.

One of the ways in which education becomes inequitable is the fast emerging idea of student trauma, where students arrive in school unsafe, hungry and not ready to learn. Although we have known about this situation for years, the large foundations here at AERA are now thinking that they want to focus some of their efforts at understanding how disadvantaged students are less likely to participate in education, get less services, constantly fall through the cracks of our social and educational safety nets, are unsafe and are hungry. These foundations are thinking that funding schools to help support strategies that support students around these issues of student trauma might be more effective in the future. Teachers in these schools are usually under-paid, have less experience and leave the profession earlier than their colleagues who teach in better conditions and with greater pay. If this reminds you of the great society innovations of the Johnson Era, you would be right. My student pens her story in response to a question I ask about spending for advantaged and disadvantaged funding:

Should we spend more on the education of the disadvantaged than the advantaged? How can we justify such a decision?

by Angelique Brown – Saturday, April 9, 2016, 2:54 PM

Should we spend more on the education of the disadvantaged than the advantaged? How can we justify such a decision?

I teach in a small impoverished community in northern NH. Our student body used to be K-6 and over 250 students. Since the mill closed roughly ten years ago we are now a K-5 school with a student body of 120 children.  We also have a 33% transient rate, meaning that 33% of our student population is in constant flux. We could have a student enroll and then leave again within a few weeks, and then be back in and out again within the same school year. We used to have two classrooms per grade, and now we have one classroom per grade, some with a 25:1 student-to-teacher ratio.  A lot of the “advantaged” families have moved out of town to find jobs, but many “disadvantaged” families have moved in due to lower rent costs.  Our free and reduced rates are over 80%, and in a school where we only have 120 students, we have roughly 40 on IEPs, with only two special education teachers to service these children. Not all of the students in the school live in poverty, but the majority of them do.

Our budget for next year (for the elementary, middle, and high school) has been reduced by $400,000 due to cuts in state adequacy aid and loss of tuition money from the other two schools in our SAU (who send students to our high school.) Because of these cuts we are unable to hire a third special education teacher and another teacher to help reduce the student-to-teacher ratio of one of our biggest classes.  All of our supply lines have been drastically reduced and we have very little money for professional development. We can’t get high quality teachers to apply, let alone take positions. We are lucky if we get para educators who even like children, because we can’t pay them enough, and are constantly reducing their hours.  These cuts will impact student achievement and limit what we can offer.  Yet these are the children who need some of the more intensive educational experiences, delivered by the best teachers.

The U.S. Department of Education has a site titled, A Great Education Helps to Create Ladders of Opportunity for All Students. On this site, they discussed the reasons why low-income communities need more educational funding than other communities.

“At each stage of their educational lives, students growing up in low-income communities fall behind their peers. They participate in early learning at far lower rates than more affluent students, enter school less ready, and are more likely to drop out. For those low-income students who graduate from high school, they are less likely to go to college, and less likely to graduate. This hurts young people, their families, and their communities, and damages America’s economic strength and international competitiveness. To ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed in college and the workforce, our nation must address the needs of students in low-income communities and low-performing schools, as well as homeless students, children of migrant workers, students in foster care, and other learners who face challenges to success (Jarrett, 2013).”

The students in our school are the children described above. They live in daily crisis. Every Friday a local church brings bags of food in to feed many of our students for the weekend. Last year I had a student so distraught that we were going on vacation (because he knew that he wouldn’t eat) that I took him grocery shopping to ensure that his last few days before vacation were more successful. We have students who come to school unable to learn because mom is being sent to jail. We had a parent die of a heroin overdose just last year, and her two young children are dealing with repercussions of this. Yet we have no money to provide on-site counseling services.   This is a town that needs more, not less.  How do we justify giving these low-income students what they need though?

The Huffington Post published an article that discussed why inadequate educational funding for low-income communities is not just a “student” problem.  They mentioned that poorly paid teachers cannot contribute to the economy via their spending (Lynch, 2014). Teachers require a lot of education to do their jobs properly, yet when school funding is cut teacher’s salaries are cut, leaving many teachers in debt.

It has also been found that education significantly reduces crime (Lochner & Moretti, 2003) Lochner and Moretti (2003) discussed how there is a direct correlation between an individual’s education and the likelihood that he or she will commit a crime. They also discussed how the costs incurred from the prosecution of a criminal and the incarceration of a criminal are not the only costs of crime to tax payers. These costs do not include what people pay in taxes to live in safe neighborhoods, or the measures that they go through to ensure that they are not victimized; security systems in homes or cars and the electricity costs of leaving outdoor lights on all night to name a few (Lochner & Moretti, 2003).

Last but not least, poor education causes more poverty, which is not good for the whole community (Hickman, 2015). As stated by Hickman in 2015, ” If you can’t read or do basic math, if you can’t show up for work and apply yourself, you will not have a job. You will be poor.” This is how the vicious cycle repeats.

When we do not put adequate money into the education of our low-income students then it will require more money in the future to adequately educate their children. Tax payers will also be paying more tax money to fund the welfare systems, the insurance companies, and the prison systems.  Why not start by funding the educational system and see if this reduces costs in all other areas in the future?


Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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